Greene alert as Johnson breaks 20-second barrier

Michael Johnson followed Maurice Greene's footsteps into lane five at the Hornet Stadium in Sacramento last night. Then, in 19.89sec of high-speed running, the superman of track and field proceeded to take the psychological lead in the race to decide the title of world's fastest man.

Michael Johnson followed Maurice Greene's footsteps into lane five at the Hornet Stadium in Sacramento last night. Then, in 19.89sec of high-speed running, the superman of track and field proceeded to take the psychological lead in the race to decide the title of world's fastest man.

Running in the fourth heat of the opening 200m round at the United States Olympic trials, Johnson broke the 20 seconds barrier for the 21st time in his career as he powered to the formality of a convincing victory. He did so clocking 19.89sec, a significant 0.40sec quicker than Greene's winning time from the same lane in the previous heat.

Greene might be the reigning world champion at 200m but the half-lap event is Johnson's domain, as his arch rival was keen to emphasise last night. Not until the final is finished, a little after 1.48am British time tomorrow, will the running dispute between the American speed merchants be settled. Johnson, though, will go into the semi-finals tonight with the assurance of a man already standing apart from his peers.

The Texan was the only runner inside 20 seconds last night. Greene was only the sixth fastest qualifier, with 20.29sec, and while the 100m world champion and world record holder was no doubt keeping some of his powder dry for the last two rounds there is a chance that the anticipated re-match in Sydney might not even take place. Greene needs to finish in the first three in the final to secure his Olympic selection for the event. And that, rather than settling a personal score with Johnson, might become his most urgent priority on the occasion of his 26th birthday.

A week ago Colin Jackson's top priority was to get back on track after the tweaking of hamstring fibres in his second race of the summer. Last night he emerged from the treatment table with a sparkling snap in his hurdling stride. Five days after remedial help from the Munich sports doctor Heinz-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, Britain's only track and field world champion returned to Germany and recorded his fastest 110m hurdles time of the year.

The Welshman was impressive enough in his heat at the Sachsen Meeting in Chemnitz, clocking 13.27sec, a season's best. He was even quicker in the final an hour later, crossing the line in 13.20sec - 0.09sec clear of Falk Balzer, the German who won the European Cup race in Jackson's absence at Gateshead last Sunday. It was not just confirmation of Jackson's fitness but a warning to his Olympic rivals, Anier Garcia and Allen Johnson, that gold in Sydney is in his sights. "I think the time says that I'm back," he said. "Not many people run 13.20 in their third race of the season. I've still got a couple of things to work on. I'm getting there, though."

The same cannot be said of another reigning world champion. Christopher Kosgei, winner of the 3,000, steeplechase in Seville last summer, will not be getting to Sydney after failing to finish in the top three in the Kenyan trials in Nairobi yesterday. He was unable to respond when Rueben Kosgei, no relation, Bernard Barmasai and Wilson Boit Kipketer broke clear in the early stages. Daniel Komen, the 1997 world 5,000m champion and 3,000m world-record holder, also missed the selection boat. He dropped out with four laps remaining in the 5,000m.

Another leading light in the sport, Merlene Ottey, failed to qualify for the 100m in the Jamaican trials in Kingston. Fourth place in the final, however, was sufficient to secure a sixth Olympic appearance for the 40-year-old veteran - with a place in the 4 x 100m relay team. She also still has the opportunity to qualify for 200m, though it was clear in the 100m final that the time Ottey lost while suspended from competition had taken its toll. It was only on 7 July that she was cleared to return to competition following her positive nandrolone test last summer.

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